About 4 to 5 million children in the United States (or approximately 8 to 9% of school-age children) were homeschooled in March 2021. This statistic increased dramatically during the pandemic: Only 2.5 million (or 3 to 4% of school-age children) were homeschooled in spring 2019.
The most common reason cited for homeschooling (before the pandemic) was concern about the local school environment, including safety and negative peer pressure. Many parents also choose to homeschool due to dissatisfaction with the educational quality of local schools, or for religious reasons.
However, many parents and caregivers considering homeschooling may be especially concerned about how homeschooling might impact their child’s academic progress and social development. Does the research find any differences between children who were homeschooled versus children in conventional school?
Homeschooled students tend to score higher on tests of academic skills when compared to children in public schools across most studies. However, it is difficult to draw any conclusions from these studies since most do not control for important family demographic factors and compare self-selected homeschooling families’ test scores (from tests proctored by parents) to national averages. Interestingly, children in a “structured” homeschool program — that is, a homeschool program with organized lesson plans — tend to score higher on academic tests than children from conventional schools, while children in “unstructured” homeschool environments without organized lesson plans tend to score lower than children in conventional schools.
The findings on social skills seem to be more mixed. Some studies have found no difference in social skills between children in homeschool environments versus conventional schools, some studies have found that homeschooled children score higher on measures of social ability, and some have found that homeschooled children score lower on overall social skills. Not surprisingly, homeschooled students who have had more opportunities for peer interactions tend to show improved social skills.
Most studies find that homeschooled children tend to have higher college GPAs than children from conventional schools. In addition, most studies have found no difference between homeschooled and conventional students in college graduation rates. However, most homeschooled students do not attend competitive four-year colleges and one study found that homeschooled students may have lower math GPAs in college than children from conventional schools. Children who are homeschooled may also be more likely to work in a lower-paying job.
Limitations of this Research
It is important to note that this research is difficult to interpret because families that choose to homeschool are different from families who do not in many other ways — for example, they may have parents with higher income or educational levels — and these factors likely contribute to the results as well. For instance, we cannot conclude that homeschooling will improve your child’s test scores since homeschooled children may have more educated mothers and it may be the mother’s educational level that drives the higher test scores, not homeschooling itself.
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